Was Hitler’s Architect the “Good Nazi”?
In January 1931, twenty-six-year-old architect Albert Speer went to see Adolf Hitler speak at the University of Berlin. Like many educated Germans, Speer was a little sceptical of the Führer’s demagoguery. But he was also disillusioned with politics, wondering why the Weimar Republic’s leaders could not explain the country’s problems in clear and simple terms.
Hitler knew how to play to different audiences. Knowing he was speaking to professionals and university graduates, he wore a sombre blue suit in the place of his uniform. He did not shout and scream, but spoke calmly about his plans for the future. He did not mention the Jews. Speer found himself warming to the Nazi leader. “Here, it seemed to me, was hope” he wrote in his memoir. “Here were new ideals, a new understanding, new tasks”. Speer joined the Nazi Party, becoming member number 474,481.
He rose quickly, and became a personal favourite of Hitler, who loved architecture and saw Speer as a visionary. In February 1942, with Germany’s armies stalled in the snow before Moscow, Hitler appointed Speer as Minister for Armaments. The architect was now a member of Hitler’s cabinet.
Speer maintained an impressive level of production throughout the War — by using slave labour from Germany’s occupied territories to man his factories. Speer demanded workers from Fritz Sauckel, the head of the Nazi labour program. And Sauckel supplied them, often by rounding up the entire population of villages throughout occupied Europe and shipping them to Speer’s factories. By the end of the War, he had conscripted more than one and a half million men, women and children.
With Nazi Germany crumbling at the end of the War, Speer lost faith in Hitler. As Allied armies poured into Germany in March and April 1945, he refused to carry out Hitler’s scorched earth tactics and destroy Germany’s infrastructure. Nonetheless, he remained loyal to the Führer, visiting him in Berlin shortly before his suicide. Like the other surviving members of the Nazi Government, he captured by the British Army at Flensburg, and then placed on trial as a major war criminal at Nuremberg.